The Federal Maritime Commission on Friday raised several questions about the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex's landmark clean-trucks program that appear likely to delay the plan's Oct. 1 start.
The two ports, which make up the nation's busiest container cargo operation, received a voluminous set of questions about their plans to ban pre-1989 trucks in favor of newer, cleaner models. The agency could go to federal court to block implementation if it doesn't like the answers.
At issue is the first effort by a major U.S. seaport to reduce diesel truck emissions by banning the oldest trucks that move cargo to and from the docks. The Port of Los Angeles program would require the creation of trucking companies or concessions to hire drivers who now operate as independent owner operators.
Long Beach's program wouldn't require an employee mandate.
The commission's queries on key points of those plans sets off a process of response and assessment that could delay a decision on the pollution-reduction program until November or later.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, tried to put the best face possible on the new obstacle.
"We are confident that we are on our way to removing thousands of dirty trucks from our neighborhoods and roadways, reducing port truck diesel emissions by 80% in just four years," Villaraigosa said. Knatz described port officials as "intent on starting this program on Oct. 1 -- no one should underestimate our determination to move this critical initiative forward."
The commission's nine-page letter contained more than 100 requests for information and documents. Many dealt with the effect of the ports' plan in comparison to a California Air Resources Board effort to rein in pollution at ports statewide.
The maritime agency's letter surfaced days after a federal judge refused a temporary injunction requested by the American Trucking Assn. to block parts of the plan.
In addition, a coalition of port terminal operators urged that the clean-trucks plan be delayed for up to three months to allow them more time to get ready.
The letter was marked by a rare and strongly worded dissent by Commissioner Joseph E. Brennan.
"The commission is making a monumental mistake in delaying, yet again, the overall environmental plan that the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach have developed to address serious health concerns and needed port expansion in the region," Brennan wrote.
David Pettit, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the commission's questions "make it very clear that the entire clean-trucks program . . . is in play."
Others applauded the commission's move.
"We hope that the ports will in a timely manner supply the information the [commission] requests, and that this will help the clean-truck program proceed next month minus the onerous concession plans," said American Trucking Assn. Chief Executive Bill Graves.